How to stay up all night

I've got some experience of this, being a second-year student, who last year had a group of friends with screwy sleeping schedules, and occasionally left work to the last minute. Disclaimer: Staying up for a long period of time can make you act unusually, which could lead to something nasty happen. Pulling all-nighters frequently could possibly have bad effects on your health - there's a reason you sleep, you know.

That said, there's nothing wrong with doing this every so often. Here are some tips on staying up all night.


You're almost certainly not going to manage to persuade yourself to stay up all night unless you are pretty determined to. This can take the form of you being deranged (like I frequently am), or having something you desperately have to get done, like essays, assignments, coding, etc. If you don't have a clear purpose, and determination, unless unusual circumstances occur, you'll chicken out.


It's definitely easier to do it in company. If you've somebody to talk to every so often, you're not just going to nod off or slope off. However, finding others who also wish to stay up all night isn't the easiest task in the whole world. Still, if you do, there's little chance of losing it and succumbing to slumber, at least until you part in the morning. At this point, it is easy to go to "get breakfast" and end up sleeping on your sofa or whatever.


Location certainly matters, especially if you're on your own. Ideally, you should be somewhere where you would not wish to spend the night - i.e., not in your abode. If you know you have to go out in the cold to go home, then you'll put it off, and thus succeed. If you are at home, it is best to be in a room other than your bedroom. Can you resist that warm bed? You won't decide "sod it, I'm going to bed". Instead, you think "I'm a bit knackered. I'll sit on the bed for a bit". Sitting becomes lying, then under the covers, and then sleep. You just get to the point where you cannot motivate yourself to not go to bed.

If you do stay up all night in your bedroom, willpower is the name of the game. Frequent trips out e.g. to the kitchen help too. Which brings us to my next point.

Chemical Assistance

Willpower is all well and good, but sometimes you just need a little extra. The geek-favoured drug would have to be caffeine; I find this useful for keeping awake, but it does no good for concentration. Lots of strong coffee (or your caffeinated beverage of choice) will keep you awake, but too much and you'll be too jittery to do anything, but even without that you just sit there, awake put not mentally active.

So you need energy. I suppose it helps if you've timed a carbohydrate-filled meal correctly before the night, but that doesn't cut it for me. Occasionally some savoury snacks are good, but sugary things give me a nice energy rush, so that I can think. Mmm, sucrose! Actually, dextrose tablets seem nice, although I'm not sure exactly what they are - sugars with a longer release time? It's definately not just one chemical, I think they're a mix of different sugars, which have been branded "Dextrose", IIRC.

Other hints

Those are IMHO the most useful things. At the end of the day (night!), comfort is the killer. A nice warm, snuggled position lying on my bed... and suddenly I wake up a few hours before my deadline, work uncompleted. In this vein, going out for a five minute walk in the cold night air tends to wake one up no end. Especially useful early in the morning, to make you synchronise into the new day, almost bright and moderately breezy.

Lastly, I've found that I am now more familiar with the cycle of awakeness/tiredness I go through (I believe this has something to do with your circadian rhythms). Around 09:00 I am at my most likely to spontaneously fall asleep while sitting in a chair listening to music or reading. After an all-nighter that is; otherwise I'd never be up anyway. After this time I become more awake, and then proceed to shamble through the rest of the day. As today, in fact. Ah, body hacking. It's interesting to see how it reacts.

One of the key methods to staying awake through the night is to be active/busy. This keeps your brain occupied and distracted from the desire to be sleeping.

From my experience, doing assignments often isn't enough to keep you awake (no matter how panicked you are about the impending deadline).

So how do you combat sleepiness? The trick is to break up your routine.

Schedule regular breaks where you go off and do something active for a while - be it lifting weights or playing another level of Quake. The purpose of this is that you are doing an activity which doesn't require too much thinking (ie give your brain a quick 'nap').

I have personally used this technique many a time and reckon it's one of the best ways of staying awake. For example, I had a 3000 word essay to complete by 9am, it was midnight and I hadn't started, and I was dead tired. I set up a routine where for every 300 words that I wrote, I would play another level of Carmageddon. By 8am, I had finished the essay and Carmegeddon. By 9am, I had submitted the essay and was fast alseep in bed.

An absolutely vital question:
How much am I accomplishing by staying up?

Many people become less intelligent, more distractable, and less conscientious as they become more sleep-deprived. If you're up long past your bedtime, your efficiency may be dropping so much that it would be worth going to sleep. Let's say it's 4AM, and you're so zonked that your productivity is only half-normal. Instead of pushing on, rejuvenate yourself with a two-hour nap. By 8AM, you'll have amortized out the cost of the nap and be getting ahead!
(you may want to nap at your seat, if you think you won't be able to get back out of bed)

Be aware of how stupid you're getting

I refuse to submit something I've completed after 3AM without having another person look at it. It may look fine to me, but something is going to be wrong. One of the lousy things about being mentally impaired is that you lose the ability to tell how impaired you are (as a great many drunk drivers can attest). If you're up eight hours late, you are not doing your best work. You may be on a wild stream of consciousness creative streak, but your coherence, fact-checking, and spelling and grammar are all suffering.

The solution presents itself easily. As night turns to day, your friends are fresh out of bed and ready to catch your gross errors. The internet is an especial blessing here. It's also very important to schedule some time at the end for proofreading. Very important.

Choose your drugs wisely

Stimulants will help a great deal, but you don't want to become too jittery -- and you don't want to crash. Many people find green tea to be more gentle than coffee. Ritalin, if you can get it, is one of the best speeds to use. It helps concentration, stays in your blood for a long time, and at the end it puts you down slowly. If you can't, try ephedrine, which is also less jittery than caffeine. Ephedrine can be obtained in sleazy convenience-store mini-thins, or in pill form at many truck stops. Finally, B-vitamins are helpful in this respect, and combine well with any of the above.


Light is vital to your body's sleep-wake cycle. Work in the most brightly-lit room you can. If it's past dawn, take a walk outside.
Also, a brief addendum to beaneater's nice writeup: dextrose is another name for glucose, which is the body's standard simple sugar. There's nothing fancy or trademarked about it. I believe dextrose tablets are sold because of their extremely quick effect on blood sugar -- diabetics can use them if their insulin level gets too high.

Here is a list of assorted foods, drinks, and supplements that will keep you awake for a few days. All tested and proved to work (I have personally tried this out and gotten friends and family members to do the same).

*Food rich in sugar (sugar is what fuels your cells)
*Anything with carbs (this will also fuel your body but without the risk of a cataclysmic crash into the land of no sugar)
*Energy drinks of all kinds (NOS, Red Bull, MDX, etc.)
*Vitamin C, B Complex, and Echinacea and Goldenseal will keep up energy and boost your immune system when you are tired and weakened.
*Pizza with meat toppings (rich in protein)
*Excedrin Migraine will prevent and treat headaches that could easily develop.

I should also recommend a friend to do this with or a long project such as hacking into the city's filing system or other lengthy task. But remember: Too much of any stimulant will cause lots of horrible problems that include, but are not limited to: Cardiac arrhythmia, convulsions, loss of motor skills, and death.

I have used all the above mentioned bits of nourishment and been able to function fine during my period of being wired but as soon as I started eating normally and stopped the vitamins I felt horrible. Just to warn you.

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